An open letter to Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms

Dear Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms,

Congratulations on being elected Atlanta’s 60th mayor!

I begin this letter with an outstretched hand to let you know I want you to be a successful mayor.

Keisha Lance Bottoms thanks her supporters on Tuesday night. Credit: Maria Saporta

Keisha Lance Bottoms thanks her supporters on election night.Dec. 5 Credit: Maria Saporta

My hope is you will appreciate the role of the press – to question, to inform, to probe, to be skeptical, and yes, to be critical when necessary.

This hope is not limited to me. Ideally you will embrace people who think differently than you do, that you will treat the press and fellow public servants with respect, and that you will seek mutually-beneficial solutions while governing our city.

It is no secret I’ve had a rocky relationship with your predecessor – Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Almost every time I questioned a certain policy, issue or act by the Mayor, I would feel his wrath – either in a personally-targeted press release, a phone call or a critical tweet.

Of course I was not alone. During his tenure, Reed attacked many of my colleagues in the press as well as several elected leaders and public servants.

It should be possible, even essential, that we have civil discussions on public policy or specific issues – and to do so without ending up as enemies. It is my sincere hope you and I will be able to have a respectful relationship, and more importantly, that you will work to bring the entire city together in a constructive way.

So what will it take for you to be successful?

  • First and foremost, you must quickly demonstrate your commitment to running an ethical administration and governing with integrity. The federal corruption investigation has cast a cloud over City Hall, and you will need to take bold steps to clear the air.  You mentioned many solid ideas during the campaign – bringing in more transparency to City Hall, cleaning up the city’s procurement process and following strict ethical guidelines when awarding contracts and doing the city’s business.
  • Second, you need to quickly exert your independence from Mayor Reed. During the campaign, you said you were your own person – that you would be the mayor, not Mayor Reed. More specifically, you said your administration would not be a third term for Reed.  If that is true, you will need to show us that you’re in charge by being willing to prove your independence. One place to start would be to seek a pause and reset on the airport concessions that Mayor Reed has been pushing to get done by the end of the year.
  • Ideally, you will surround yourself with people who are not beholden to Mayor Reed. The people on your team need to be the best Atlanta can attract – and not just people whose greatest attribute is having been loyal to Mayor Reed.  That includes making sure you are able to make your own appointments to a host of city-related boards or authorities – such as the Atlanta Housing Authority, the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, MARTA, Invest Atlanta, the Atlanta BeltLine Inc., the city’s pension boards, among others. (Mayor Reed has already taken away much of your decision-making ability by making 11th hour appointments. You’ll need to do all you can to make sure you are the one running City Hall and not just inheriting Reed’s appointments and leaving the impression he is still pulling the strings).
  • During Reed’s administration, public engagement has been viewed as more of a nuisance rather than a welcome necessity to create the “city on a hill.” Instead of ramming through projects, developments and deals with little community input, you would regain much of the public’s trust if you genuinely embraced a collaborative approach to governing and decision-making going forward.

Several of Mayor Reed’s initiatives are to be commended, and they have received widespread public support.

For example, the Atlanta City Design Project gives our city and even our region a strategy of how we should grow while keeping our neighborhoods intact, protecting our tree canopy, preserving our historic buildings and guiding redevelopment to commercial corridors.

Keisha Lance Bottoms

Candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms (left) speaks to folks after a Cathy Woolard mayoral runoff forum at the Carter Center. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Also, the city has become much more focused on making Atlanta more affordable to people of all income levels, and I look forward to your efforts to make sure gentrification does not push out Atlanta’s longtime residents.

Among other of Reed’s commendable policies include: declaring Atlanta a “welcoming city” – one that invites people from all over the world to call Atlanta home; putting Atlanta on a path towards sustainability – such as signing on to the Paris Climate Accord; and developing new parks and green space often by leveraging the city’s waterways and partnering with the city’s watershed department; and striking a cooperative relationship with Gov. Nathan Deal and the state legislature.

Unfortunately, many of Reed’s accomplishments have been mired by his confrontational personality and bullying tactics aimed at destroying his “enemies” rather than finding areas of consensus.

Mayor-elect Bottoms, you have a great opportunity. As a woman and a mother, you can take the high road rather than ruling through fear or demanding blind loyalty. You can strike a tone of cooperation and collaboration to bring the city together

Remember, from here on out, you are accountable to the entire community.

As a lifelong Atlantan and a keen observer of city politics over the past four decades, I genuinely want you to succeed as Atlanta’s 60th mayor.

Respectfully,

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

31 replies
  1. kevin keefe says:

    Dear Mayor-elect Bottoms,

    I have been a Mayor Reed supporter and after much thought, proudly voted for you in the recent runoff. The city seems to work with a strong/empowered executive in charge and I believe that you can take effective control. My one request to Santa this year is that our next Mayor will use Twitter responsibly.

    Happy Holidays,

    Kevin – resident of Council District 2Report

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  2. Willene White-Smith says:

    Thanks Maria for submitting your Open Letter to Mayor KLB, that reflects the sentiments of MANY Atlantans. Cudos to you & the timeliness of your letter. I think that she will be an exemplary Mayor pursuing on her own visions and needs of the ATL-Citizens. As shared with you earlier, my PRIMARY concern is, what type of concerns, resources does she plan to bring Directly to the West Side Community, especially to the educational training aspect of this community? Some of the AUC schools are benefitting somewhat. However, the institutional college, Morris Brown, that stands up front in this community with her real proximity to the residents of the West Side appears to be overlooked. There are several educational & on the job training skills that can be gained from our academic programs. We are Not asking for a “hand-out,” but a “Hand-UP” to bring these programs into fruition.Report

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  3. Scotty Greene says:

    Bravo Maria. Maybe one of the best pieces of op ed advice you’ve ever written. Nothing to add really… except to turn to our Mayor-elect with hope and encouragement.Report

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  4. Avery Jackson says:

    Ms. Saporta,
    The tone of your open letter to the Mayor-elect is very inappropriate. It is condescending and arrogant in its resonance. In the interest of balance, perhaps you should direct some of your advice towards the elected officials under the gold dome at the state capitol as opposed to city hall. Many of the accusations you direct at the elected officials at city hall apply as well to the elected officials at the state capitol.

    Regards,

    Avery JacksonReport

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  5. Joe Beasley says:

    Well stated Maria. If Mayor elect Bottom’s become proactive and follow your suggestions we can have a great City!

    I’ve called upon our new Mayor to take a delegation to Africa. All of the resources needed to fuel our economy in the 21st Century and beyond, are in Africa. As the “Black Mecca” the influence of an Atlanta Black Mayor can extend throughout Africa!

    Mayor Reed’s caustic demeanor will not be missed! All contracts at the Airport should be ended until the new government is in place next year!Report

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    • Darkeyah Reuven says:

      Foolishness. You don’t stop a Billion dollar business and inconvenience 100,000s of people because a manager got caught with his hands in the cash register. You address management processes and reward good behavior. Moving on!Report

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    • brainstar8 says:

      I wish the best for Mayor-Elect Bottoms, but she is entering the office with the ugly shadow of Big Baby Reed. I disagree that Reed could have been strategic and inclusive. The reason I never voted for him is that he almost always made an embarrassing, if not childish, display of his pent-up anger. No need to even go there with the continuing charges of corruption, which, as a taxpayer living in the City, I have come to believe.

      For years we used to hear the refrain, “I’m black and I’m proud.” Now it’s, “I’m black and I’m angry.” What is anyone supposed to do with this? Even if unspoken, this deep anger is evident in the faces and voices of many black leaders and other black people I often encounter. It makes me sad for them, but again, what’s to be done until this self-imposed stress and hatred run their course?Report

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      • Yasin Davidson Efundele says:

        brainstar8, the refrain has not changed it is only that there is a misunderstanding as to how you see it. When people don’t understand something they tend to change it to how they see it and not what was really said. This is how things get started and get ugly. Be sure you have the correct quote.Report

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  6. F. E. Burks says:

    Maria I hope the spirit of your letter is above board, however the tone is condescending and to many in the Black community and is coming from someone who is privileged and who expects to dictate despite losing. Give her a chance, if you want to specifically detail what Mayor-Elect Bottoms will or should do, first address GA capitol, White House, Congress, Alabama Senatorial election today; in other words YOU should have a balanced history of reporting.Report

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  7. J.K. Simmins says:

    This reeks of arrogance, condescension, and racism. Bottoms hasn’t even started and you’re already down her throat, accusing her of being a puppet, instructing her on how to do her job, demanding that she cater to you.

    You’re clearly still licking whatever personal wounds Reed left you with, so write an open letter to him. You don’t have a right to air those grievances with Bottoms. She’s a different person, and until there’s evidence to suggest otherwise, this is a new administration. Come down, Maria.Report

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    • David says:

      She is a puppet. She would still be another do-nothing councilperson without him. He raised the money. He brought in the big guns. He appointed her to the Rec Authority so that she could claim executive experience, even though she hired a “consultant” to run the place. Look it up; it’s out there.Report

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      • Scott Carlisle says:

        Sadly, nothing will change, beginning with rigged Hartsfield concession contracts. The corruption at City Hall will continue to smell worse than wet beer farts from elderly dementia patients…Report

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      • Scotty Greene says:

        Does “being Mayor” ,a leader, include receiving input, advice, perspective…..from those who you would lead? How is it “condescending” for anyone to offer what Maria has or for that matter anybody else to our new Mayor elect.
        Yes, she WON , but hopefully, surely, a new leader at this or any level is not a closed book, impervious to hearing concerned or dissenting voices. Is democracy ONLY about winning. Hope not.Report

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  8. Brady says:

    In the 1981 Atlanta Mayoral election, Mayor Maynard Jackson made a public and very forceful endorsement for his choice to succeed him as Mayor of Atlanta. The candidate was Civil Rights veteran, former Congressman, and former Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young. The media and business community at the time criticized Maynard’s involvement in this open election because they felt it would be a “third term” for the Jackson Administration. Jackson had been accused of being “confrontational,” and not being open to consensus, but history has vindicated him and it will vindate Kasim Reed. We have witnessed 8 years of one of the most successful mayoral administrations in the city’s history. Which mayor previous mayor has had more success than Kasim Reed? Atlanta is a global city and he has governed accordingly to maximum the benefits for our city and its residents, but the press in Atlanta has not been kind to this mayor. Why? Is it because he can be openly critical of your opinions just as you are oftentimes critical of his? What makes the press inpenetrable to criticism? That is a very arrogant position to take. Within the black community, we have grown very weary of the role of the press because you all are very biased in your coverage of African-American elected officials. In almost every city that has had a black mayor in the past, the false narrative of “corruption” looms its ugly head. Eight years ago Mary Norwood ran on the Franklin administration being corrupt. This year with Franklin’s endorsement, the Reed administration is corrupt. If she had run against Maynard or Andy, they would undoubtedly been labeled corrupt as well. It’s a false narrative about black leadership around the country and quite frankly many of us in the black community are tired of the distortion. Under the federal probe, Mayor Reed released 1 million documents and not one charge has been lobbied against him. Adam Smith, who was a holdover from the Franklin administration, was a rouge actor in a bribery scheme that will land him in prison for many years. How do we know he wasn’t accepting bribes during the Franklin administration? We don’t. But for the press to say corruption is rampant in the Reed administration is just another sign of media manipulation attempting to character assassinate a very popular black elected official. Mayor-elect Keisha Bottoms will inherit a city government that is in the best position to take Atlanta to the next level and address longstanding issues that continue to plague our community. She will have the resources to address infrastructure challenges, blight in low income communities, be a leading voice on improving education, a beneficial working relationship with state government, and a cooperative City Council to pass her agenda. And now you want her to denounce Mayor Reed for making this amazing set of circumstances possible. That’s ridiculous and you know it. If the people around mayor are responsible for the success the city has had over the past 8 years, I would be grateful to have their counsel and support. Why doesn’t the press levy the same criticism at state and national Republicans who hire staff and make appointments from within their ranks? Our President has his own daughter working in his administration, but yet you want to insist Mayor-elect Bottoms not to consider supporrters who stuck with her candidacy when Shirley Franklin and others were depicting her as Imelda Marcos during the campaign because her family has the financial resources to purchase a vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard. Again, it’s ridiculous to make these demands when we don’t make the same demands of state and federal government. The late great former Chicago mayor Harold Washington often said, “Politics ain’t beanbag!” It’s a contact sport and you stick with the teammates who helped you win the championship. You do not abandon your team because you have new found prestige, in fact you do quite the opposite. You reward them for their loyalty and get their support to carry your agenda forward in order to keep winning. That’s why we respect Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, and Barack Obama. They are all winners. Kasim Reed was a winner for all of Atlanta and Keisha Lance Bottoms will be a winner for our “City on a Hill” as well.Report

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    • David Ricardo says:

      The assistant U. S. attorney said that corruption was rampant in the city of Atlanta. The press only reported the story.

      Many of the documents release were illegible and only released for show.

      The vacation home was purchased as a “primary residence.” not a vacation home. That’s not kosher.

      The Adam Smith situation is separate from the bribery investigation. It’s just one of several concurrent investigations.Report

      Reply
  9. newsdee says:

    Thanks Maria! I agree with much that you have written. I was initially a supporter of Vincent Fort for Mayor and then I switched to Mary Norwood in the run-off…….principally because of my concern with Ms.Lance- Bottoms close association with Mayor Reed. I supported Reed when he ran for office eight years ago, but I agree with a statement that I heard from my doctor today (a prominent resident): Reed has lately become more like Donald Trump! I am hoping that the duo of Mayor-elect Bottoms and the next Council President Felicia Moore will be an effective one. We need ethics at City Hall.Report

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  10. Shirley Y Simmons says:

    I respect you as a writer Maria, however you write your open letter as if the Mayor Elect is not capable of determining the direction in which the City. should go. She does need our support to make Atlanta the City for all of us. But please allow her to get in the door before giving marching orders. Respectfully, District 11 resident and 40 year Atlanta resident,business woman and community volunteer.Report

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  11. atlman says:

    As you backed other candidates why should Bottoms listen to you now or ever? And incidentally, your list of Reed’s accomplishments was notably extremely short, leaving out such things as massive drops in crime and unemployment, getting the Beltline almost to completion, addressing the pensions issue that was bankrupting the city, and unloading a bunch of economically unviable properties that were attracting crime and blight.

    Incidentally, are you still an Atlanta Hawks fan? When you joined in the chorus to drive Danny Ferry away based on his allegedly having little to do with the Hawks success, you ensured us that the team would be fine without him. Now the Hawks are one of the worst teams in the NBA and have changed ownership for an out of town owner who only agreed to keep the Hawks in the city rather than relocating them to Seattle after a promise of many tens of millions of taxpayer money, and a redevelopment plan for the Gulch that will make sure that the MMPT – which would have been as significant to Atlanta and Georgia as Hartsfield Airport – will never occur. Funny, you haven’t revisited that story since. Why? Because that would mean accountability. You are never accountable for your “advocacy” so why should Reed, Bottoms or anyone else listen to you?

    You made the decision to side against Reed when he was trying to broker deals to sell Turner Field and Fort McPherson. You chose to stand with the “neighborhood activists” because it was the trendy progressive thing to do. Never mind that the alternative plans of the “neighborhood activists” – for the city and state to give them hundreds of millions of dollars to redevelop their neighborhoods while simultaneously promising them that they wouldn’t be relocated in favor of wealthier tenants (they wanted the city and the state to spend massive sums of money to improve their neighborhoods while freezing their property tax rates!) was never going to happen because it was politically unviable. Instead of telling them the truth – that what they wanted would never happen (why should government spend hundreds of millions to rehabilitate their neighborhood and not every other of the many thousands of impoverished areas in this country including dozens in Atlanta alone … and really those areas weren’t that bad compared to far poorer areas outside metro Atlanta where there haven’t been high paying jobs in generations if ever) you sided with them, making the job of finding whatever few buyers that existed for those areas that much harder.

    Reed accomplished most of what he did – lowering crime, dealing with the pensions issue, rehabilitating MARTA and the APS school board, finishing most of the Beltline, attracting a ton of private investment using MARTA/the streetcar/the Beltline, attracting loads of private employers and affluent residents, annexing Emory/CDC, flipping Fort McPherson, Turner Field, Underground Atlanta and the Civic Center to private developers – by ignoring people like you on the left and on the right, and that – not corruption – is what has everyone furious at him. The folks on the right are furious because he made the city successful when so many of them want it to fail in order to justify their own Jim Crow ideology. The folks on the left are furious because he didn’t kowtow to them and instead chose to work with the Republicans in the legislature and the governor’s office and also with the business community instead of sticking with the same “poor people’s agenda” that has failed every single big city in America and has also failed internationally whenever it has tried. That agenda has not worked, will not work and cannot work because it ignores fundamental truths about economics and human nature, yet you would rather “leaders” stick to it and fail rather than moderate their politics and succeed the way that Atlanta and Washington D.C. has. Why should people who want be in a livable city have to go to Portland, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver or San Diego? Or be restricted to the “good parts” of Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston etc. instead of being terrified of being in half the city when it gets dark and 1/4 of the city 24 hours a day? Between the people on the right who hate cities because they give blacks and Hispanics economic and political power and the folks on the left who want cities to remain the dysfunctional crime and poverty filled basket cases that justify the biases of the people on the right because you won’t give up on the failed Great Society politics that not even Barack Obama pursued when he was in office – and neither did Bill Clinton – the mayor of a majority black city who wants lower crime and economic growth is a man without a country because he gets it from both sides. And they wonder why he was angry all the time!

    Lance Bottoms should do herself a favor: ignore people like Saporta. I bet the former owners of the Hawks wish they had. They’d still own a winning franchise in one of the biggest markets for the NBA in the country if they did.Report

    Reply
    • David says:

      Reed is not the reason for the city’s success. It was successful before him and will be after he is gone. It is the private sector that drives Atlanta. City government is just a minor inconvenience.Report

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  12. Robert says:

    Very well written, Maria.

    I am not an Atlanta resident, but as a citizen of East Point, I look towards the new mayor of Atlanta to leave the previous 8 years behind and chart a new course for the city. One that breeds consensus and allows all of the citizens voices to be heard.

    I look forward to your reporting for the next four years on her administration. Do not let up!Report

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  13. SnoogleAtl says:

    Interesting, I wonder what the letter would have contained if her opponent had won. This letter is premature and in poor Taste. Mayor elect Bottoms has communicated her platform and illustrated, over at least the past year how she can handle the press. She has been questioned by reporters about very personal matters that other opponents were not questioned about, and delivered her responses with grace and honesty. Please let her do the job she was “elected” to do. The opposition piled on and even turned a small percentage of her supporters against her and she succeeded. Now all you should do is allow her to have her moment and stop trying to take some of the spotlight.Report

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  14. Sandra says:

    Ma’am you need to pick up whatever baggage you have with Reed and take a big step back. KLB doesn’t need you to tell her what to do. She is an Attorney and City Council woman. She is very capable. Would you have written this condescending little editorial for the other candidate. I wonder.Report

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  15. Darkeyah Reuven says:

    The people of Atlanta would not elect Mrs. Maria Saporta to pick up their garbage. But she has the audacity to tell a woman who has been excruciatingly vetted, qualified and chosen by the citizens of Atlanta what should be done in our city. KICK ALL THE ROCKS! Mrs. Maria Saporta.Report

    Reply

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